Oh boy!

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend Cindy told me that she is going to be a grandma!

Oh boy! (Or girl!).

And so it begins…My first friend to become a grandma.

My daughter’s best friend is going to be a mom.

And so it begins…Her first friend who is going to be a mother.

And so it begins.

And so it begins…

That’s life!

 

ACT 2

My mother always said if you have an easy baby, you will have a difficult teenager and vice versa.

My firstborn, Angel, was a happy baby. She was easily excited, bubbly, and laughed often. When she was happy, things were great. When she was crabby, something was wrong…like an ear infection. She has a positive, bubbly, happy personality except when she is really stressed out. Then watch out. As a teenager, she was rather mouthy at times. But she got good grades and made good decisions. She stayed fairly consistent throughout the years.

My youngest, Arabella, was a difficult baby. She cried constantly day and night. But so far she seems to be the easiest teenager to raise. She gets good grades, stays out of trouble, and is easy going.

If I only had Angel and Arabella, I could probably write a bestselling parenting book that would wow you with my tips on how I’ve got everything together.

Then comes Alex. At this point, you are probably sick of hearing about my vaping, flunking, cliff diving, race car driving, hell raiser of a son. I’ll tell you this, he was my easiest baby. If I could describe his infancy in one word, it would be content. He rarely fussed and kept a routine that I could set a clock to. He was a big time mama’s boy.

In middle school everything changed. He started hanging with a bad crowd. His grades started to slip. We gave him consequences for his behavior such as grounding him from his friends or his Xbox. That did not give us the change of behavior that we were hoping for. He seemed more rebellious and at times despondent.

In the evenings, Paul would sit down with Alex to help him with assignments. It reminded me of when my mom helped Mark with his homework. It usually ended in an argument. One day Alex was complaining to a girl via text about how mean his dad was. The next day my son showed up to school with bruises. The girl told the counselor about Alex’s mean dad who called child protective services.

It was all a misunderstanding really. At the time, my son was in wrestling. Over the weekend he had a brutal tournament that left him bruised on his body and face. The girl incorrectly thought that because Alex said his dad was mean (for making him do his homework) that my husband beat him. CPS came to the school and took pictures of my son. They came to our house to talk to us. They interviewed our other children. Then we showed them the before, during, and after pictures from the wrestling tournament. It all ended there.

It was a horrible experience. Strangers were coming into our home judging us. I felt embarrassed because we are acquaintances with the school counselor, other CPS workers, and the girl attended our church with her parents. I was angry for awhile with the girl. But Paul said he didn’t feel angry because she did the right thing if she thought Alex was being abused.

I felt angry because Paul was wrongfully accused. He is one of the best dads I’ve ever seen. All this from a man that never had a father. He has a lot of self doubt at times. Was I too hard on the kids?? Was I too lenient?? Maybe I should’ve tried something else…Maybe if I knew that kid was bad news earlier…Maybe, maybe, maybe..

It is easy to blame yourself as a parent if your kids don’t turn out the way that you want them to. It is hard to escape the criticism if you’re the one that has the baby that always cries…If it is your kid that is doing drugs, while your friend’s kids are getting straight A’s. Maybe your son is suicidal or your daughter has an eating disorder. Or maybe you have a violent autistic son…like my mother, who was ostracized and blamed by her peers.

When you’ve done everything that you could, even when everyone around you condemns you for something you have little control over…it’s really not your fault.

Paul and I feel like we did the best job that we could. We tried to give our kids the childhood that we wanted but never had. Then we commiserate that our kids don’t have the grit that we earned from struggling. The messed up situations in our lives that gave us strength we kept away from them. It seems like a paradox really…everything should’ve been perfect. It was good in many ways, but never perfect.

As we near the end of this active parenting gig, we feel we did the best that we could. We talk to our kids about what is happening in their lives, the good and the bad. At the end of the day, we tell our kids we love them and they tell us they love us back. That should count for something…

We may not be the perfect parents, but if you are…please do enlighten us with your bestselling parenting book…somehow in the shuffle of raising 3 teenagers we seemed to have misplaced our instruction manual!

 

Paul’s journey, part 1

He was born on LSD.

Not really in the way you might think for the late 1960’s

He was actually born at the Cook County Hospital on Lake Shore Drive (LSD) in Chicago.

From what I remember hearing, his mother Martha faced childbirth alone. There might have been a stranger, a nun, at the momentous event. But all of this I could only surmise from snippets I’ve heard. I wasn’t even born yet. I didn’t meet him until he was 27. So forgive me if the memories of what I’ve heard are a little hazy.

All of the questions about that evening will remain unanswered forever. His mother is no longer with us.

I do remember her saying that she saw her daddy that evening. At the time, he was no longer with her.

Martha’s father passed away when she was 12. Her mother was always working to support the 6 children she was responsible to care for alone after her husband passed away. Martha was one of the youngest children and the only living daughter.

Martha lived in the inner city of Chicago. She already dropped out of high school before she got pregnant as a teenager. She wasn’t what anyone would call bright by any stretch of the term. But she was beautiful, very beautiful. I saw the grainy blurred photos.

Her child was born without a father. His name was legally omitted on the birth certificate although it did list that he was 21.

There were rumors about the father. He was said to have red hair and green eyes. He was part of a motorcycle gang. He had a very common name and wasn’t from Chicago. He wanted to steal the baby. He wanted nothing to do with the baby. He called on the phone but never said a word. He went off to Vietnam and never came back. He might have been Native American. He was a hillbilly.

Are any of those rumors even true? There is no one to ask anymore..

All he knew was that he didn’t have a dad.

After all, he was a 60’s love child born on LSD.

Storms of Christmas past

This year my youngest daughter had her first high school choir concert on the day that my grandma died.

Let’s take a trip back in time to 1967. I wasn’t born yet. My mom was 19. My dad went off to Vietnam.

It was Christmastime. My grandparents were in the process of moving to a new town for my grandpa’s new job. My grandma was 43 and pregnant. Her oldest child, my aunt, was out of the house, married, and expecting her first child. My mom was in college. There were five children left at home and a new baby on the way.

My grandma wasn’t feeling well with her eighth pregnancy. She was on bed rest at the hospital but wrote letters to her family at the new house where no one knew them.

There was a snowstorm the night that she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. After the little baby girl took her first breath, my grandma took her last breath.

This month the baby girl turned 50. She had a big weight to carry the day she was born. She took the last breath of a mother of 8 when she took her first. I think she always felt guilty about it although no one could logically blame her for something not of her choosing. Then she took the life that her mother sacrificed to give her and made a big mess of it.

This month Uncle Rick threw my aunt a 50th birthday party before the choir concert. It was both a joyous and solemn occasion. Before the party, the siblings tearfully read the last letter that their mother wrote the night before she died. It wasn’t carefree and happy like the rest. It was as if she knew it would be her last.

At the choir concert that night, I sat with my mom on the 50th anniversary of her mother’s death. She told me that her mother was my age when she died and she was the same age as my oldest daughter. I felt sorrow for my mother. She really needed to have a mother in her life as the path she beat down was always rocky.

That night, I watched others perform my daughter’s songs from when she was in high school. My oldest daughter was not able to be there. It was hard to hear someone else sing ‘her’ songs. It hurt. Time was slipping by way too fast. It was also difficult to sit next to my mother on the anniversary of her mother’s death. I could feel the loss, the sadness, the nostalgia, the longing for something that was no longer there envelop me.

Arabella’s letter

Our local high school encourages parents to write a letter to their child upon entering high school to be given to them at graduation. Sounds like an easy task for a ‘writer’, but it is not.

I don’t remember what I wrote for my oldest daughter and she never let me read it after graduation.

A few years back, I wrote the letter to my son and shared that letter with you. It was easier to write because quite frankly I was moved. We were going through some really hard times with him. Times a lot harder than him going to an underage drinking party at someone’s cabin. Let’s just say that I had a lot of words of wisdom and advice to share..

But it is not all about my middle child and his ability to rock the boat today. It is about Arabella, my baby, the child I have little in common with. She doesn’t even look like me. She was a horrible baby. She cried non-stop for the first year, day and night. After that first year, she has been easy going and probably my easiest child to raise so far (although we are only a year into the teen years). She has been practically a straight A student and seems to have her head on fairly straight. What kind of advice could I give her??

Well, here goes…

Dear Arabella,

As I write this on your first day of high school, I can’t believe that you are graduating already.

I have to wonder…Did you start your own business yet? What will the future hold now that you will be out from under our wing?

I remember the day you were born. You were the ‘famous baby’ in a published photography book. Your dad proudly showed the book to every visitor that entered our house for years.

Then came the first day of school. You were afraid to let go of my hand just like now I am afraid to let go of yours. It doesn’t seem possible that childhood could fly by so quickly. Now you are graduating!

We are so proud of you, not just on this one day. We are proud of your past accomplishments and are excited for your future endeavors. We know you will go far with your intelligence, persistence, and leadership skills.

Love,

Mom & Dad

Sweet baby

It happened on Father’s Day..

His first, his last..

I don’t even know him or the baby for that matter.

But I knew his mother from a long time ago, when she was a little girl growing up next door.

It seems hard to believe that I lived somewhere long enough in my adult life to watch a child grow up. She was so young when I first met her…younger than my kids are now.

When she outgrew her bike, she gave it to my daughter.

Now my daughter grew up and left home too.

I wonder what happens to the bicycles when there are no more little legs left to ride them.

The neighbor girl grew up to become a social worker. She rescues children from bad homes but couldn’t save her own child. The horrible injustice of it all must scratch at her wounded heart.

The funeral is tomorrow. It must be hard to pick out the last little outfit that your baby is going to wear in his coffin. I feel so much sorrow for you as I write this.

How devastating to have your baby ripped from your arms so unexpectedly. It’s hard to imagine him in a better place, a place without you.

Do you blame yourself?

Maybe if I noticed something wrong sooner…maybe I should’ve picked him up more when he fussed…maybe I should’ve stayed home with him longer before going back to work…maybe…maybe…maybe…this wouldn’t have happened..

It wasn’t your fault.

I can’t imagine the pain that you are feeling.

I’m so sorry you lost your sweet baby.

 

 

 

 

After the snow melts

After the snow melted, I thought I saw a little blue baby boy sock out in my yard. I wondered where it came from. I don’t even remember the last time I had a baby at my house. My baby boy is almost fully grown.

It made me long for the days when my son was a baby. Alex was my easiest baby. He was always content. He was happy to sit and study his surroundings quietly for hours. He slept through the night. He kept a very structured eating and sleeping schedule that I could set my clock by. He was easy to potty train. He was the cutest little guy. He had thick curly brown ringlets, whereas his sisters got the straight hair. He was such a mama’s boy. We would sit together and read books often.

Now I wish I could tell you that things haven’t changed much after Alex entered his teen years, but I can’t. Things haven’t been that easy as of late. My husband said that with him it is always two steps forward and one step back. This will be the last weekend that he is grounded from his friends. There is one friend that has been a horrible influence on him and other neighborhood kids. Alex is not allowed to hang out with him anymore. Last week two police cars were at this boy’s house. Trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. I am hoping that since this friendship has been severed, things will get better.

Alex has been struggling with his grades, with making new friends, and has been angry about his grandma’s cancer diagnosis. Paul and I had a long talk with the principal who suggested signing him up for a spring sport. Alex opted to join track. At his very first track meet on his very first event, he injured his leg. It was so frustrating. Alex was upset as well. He was angry that some of his friends weren’t watching his event. He said that if he never came back to school, no one would miss him. I didn’t like to hear him talk like that, but at least he was talking to me. I told him that no matter what his friends do, I would be there for him.

That night after the meet, I went to look at the baby sock in my yard. But it wasn’t a sock. It was a blue piece of paper flapping in the wind.

So it is day after day, sometimes my son and I get along great. We talk about his future. We joke and laugh. He can always sense when I am feeling down even when I try to hide it. He told me not to worry about the past because my life is happy now when I feel sad after writing about difficult things. He encourages others when they are feeling down. He is gentle, caring, and kind.

Then the next minute, he is moody and disrespectful. He says mean things. He wants to have nothing to do with me. He talks about moving out. I suppose that is what raising teenagers is all about. Right now my son is 65% adult and 35% child. Sometimes he is so much like a man that I feel shocked at his maturity and logic. Then the next minute the child comes out and I am shocked by his immaturity. I think that we are heading in the right direction with Alex. He just takes a little more work then our first born.

The next time I glanced out the window, I tried to see if the blue paper still looked like a baby sock. I thought that my perception would change after I realized it was just a piece of paper. But the next time I looked, it was gone.

Making a pact

This past weekend something happened that made me rather upset.

Last minute, Paul and I had our friends Cindy and Jack over. Jack wanted to make plans with Paul to go on a fly fishing trip over Easter break. The place that they want to fish is 5 hours away, very close to Cindy’s parents. Cindy and Jack were having a hard time finding a babysitter for their 5 year old son and we couldn’t help. That seemed like a no brainer fix to me. I suggested that they drop their son off with Cindy’s parents. Cindy said that her parents wouldn’t do that for them. They were still complaining about the time that they had to watch him for 2 hours. Really? That made me angry.

Then I told Cindy that my aunt wanted my daughter to sing in her only child’s wedding. She told me that my younger two children weren’t going to be invited to the wedding. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal except that the wedding is a couple of hours away. Being a part of the wedding would require a hotel room a couple of nights for the rehearsal and wedding. Another relative said that I should leave my other kids with some friends or my in-laws. My in-laws? They didn’t help out with the kids much before my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. How can people ask a favor and be so insensitive?? Paul offered to stay home with the youngest kids so I could take Angel to sing in the wedding. But it makes me angry!

Then it took me back to a time in my life when I needed help but found myself alone. On Angel’s 4th birthday, Matt attacked her. It took my brother and husband to pull him off of her. This event caused a chain reaction of hurt that lasted years after the actual attack took place. I decided that I didn’t want my children victimized by my brother like I was. Things were different, when my brother hurt me he was a child. When he hurt Angel, he was a grown man and she was just a little girl. For years there was a time where there was very minimal contact between Matt and my children. Because of this, my mom lost her number one caregiver, me. We also lost our number one helper, my mom.

Less than a year after Matt attacked Angel, I gave birth to my third child. I scheduled the C-section for a Friday because I didn’t have anyone to help watch the kids during the week while Paul worked. My mom stayed over the night before, then dropped the kids off at the hospital the morning that I had my third child because Matt had a doctor’s appointment. Paul and I never had the celebratory meal together. After I got home from the hospital, my mother-in-law helped for one day then I was on my own less than a week after having major surgery with my three little kids.

In response to everything that happened, I decided to solve my problems by starting up a babysitting co-op. It worked great. We exchanged points for child care instead of money. We had monthly play groups. I developed close friends that for some reason or other found it hard to get the support that they needed as a parent.

I wish that there was a flow chart with parenting solutions sometimes. If your child does this, you do that. Every parenting class that I have ever attended was always filled with controversy. To spank or not to spank? Work or stay at home? Breast or bottle? Private, public, or home school? One child wins or everybody wins? Vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Yada, yada, yada… I am sure it wouldn’t take too long to find a blog where someone is fighting over these issues. Nobody seems to have the answers. 
Having your first child is such a major shock. I find it funny when women seem worried about childbirth. I was the same way. Seriously, you should be more worried about the next 18 years! Suddenly you are thrown into parenting without any idea what you are doing. Having a second child is also a shock. Yes, I was one of those people that thought it wouldn’t change my life at all. I also thought that my kids wouldn’t fight. That expectation got shattered pretty fast. I also thought that if I did the best job that I could possibly do that my kids wouldn’t rebel or make the wrong choices. Boy am I still learning! Having a third child was no adjustment at all. Wait, did I have a third child? I think so, except I did not document the first time she started to crawl, the first word she said, or the first time she spit up like I did with my first child.

Grandparents, why does our culture sometimes treat you like you are outdated and worthless? What a lie! You are a wealth of knowledge. You have the experience that some of us are learning through trial and error at the expense of our children. For all of the grandparents out there who are helping out their children some way or another, thank you. God bless you for making this world a better place. You are needed. You are appreciated. Parents, if you have parents that are wonderful grandparents, show them your gratitude. I know many parents that would do almost anything to have a little guidance.

This past weekend Paul suggested that we (Paul, Cindy, Jack, and I) make a pact to be good grandparents. The four of us promised that we would be there for our children when they have children of their own. We promised to be supportive, offer advice if asked, and to take our grandchildren for a few days to give their parents a break. We will take the wrongs and make them right.

This is our pact.

The travel diaries, Virginia Beach

The trip to Virginia Beach was the first vacation that I took as an adult with kids. I probably shouldn’t have gone. I was probably only invited as a nice gesture, but I took the opportunity and ran with it. I was invited by my mom who was going on the trip with Luke and his future wife Emily. I think that they seriously thought that I wouldn’t go. Paul couldn’t take a week off of work as he was a one man show back when his business was in its infancy. People thought that I was crazy for going because I decided to go with a newly turned two year old and a newborn. We loaded up a rental van and headed across the country on an over 2,000 mile round trip road trip.

We didn’t make any reservations in advance, we just looked at a map and drove as far as we could in a day. Our goal was to see the ocean. The trip in and of itself was pretty uneventful until we got closer to the ocean. What I really liked was that we decided to eat at a restaurant at the top of a hill in West Virginia. It was a winding drive to get to the top of the hill. It was exciting because WI is pretty flat. Another thing I noticed, in WI we have about 2 bars for every church. Bar, bar, Lutheran church. Bar, bar, Catholic church. But when we went to WV it was church, church, church, church, and bar that was shut down. What different cultures depending on where you are in our big country.

When we were almost to the ocean, I think we were touring a fort or something when I ended up feeling sick. I laid down on the grass while everyone took the tour. The long body jostling miles 2 months after having a C-section, the sleepless nights of being up with a newborn, and keeping up with an energetic 2 year old finally took its toll on me. The day we planned to go to the ocean, I ended up in the ER. I had a foreign doctor with a southern accent that I needed a nurse translator to understand. He wanted to hospitalize me. I got hooked up to an IV and they put a catheter in me. He wanted me to go on some heavy duty antibiotics that I would have to stop nursing my baby with. I refused. I told him that I only had a bladder infection and that being hundreds of miles from home that I couldn’t just stop nursing as I had in no way prepared to buy bottles and sanitize them on the road. Plus we were going to see the ocean TODAY! I got some regular antibiotics and we were on our way.

We finally got to the ocean in the afternoon. The doctor said that I could not swim so I walked in the ocean for the first time up to my knees. I remember hearing a mother screaming up and down the beach because she lost her child and was afraid he might have drowned. Someone was kind and offered me their canopy when they were leaving as I didn’t have an umbrella to protect my baby from the sun. We stayed at the beach for 2 hours and then had to leave to meet up with a friend of mine. So our long trip to the ocean was again cut very short because of me.

The next day we did some touring of the area. I remember going to tour a president’s plantation house in the afternoon. We got there right before the last tour of the day. My mom and I were going to take turns with the kids. We planned to go on separate tours but since it was the last tour of the day we couldn’t do that. Once the tour group of about 20 people got inside, they locked us in. With a 2 year old and a newborn this incited some terror within me. Sure enough while the tour guide was explaining about the original antique rug that we were standing on, my son spit up all over it. My 2 year old had a tantrum at the end of the tour. It was great being locked in while she was screaming and crying. Oh, and the dirty looks. I can laugh now because I will never have to go through that again. Phew. On the way out, we walked through a pet cemetery. I guess that really was a thing.

After that we drove through the night to get back home. I crossed going to the ocean with little kids off my bucket list. What a trip!

Letting go of the present

I think that my focus this new year is going to be letting go. Now before you start to get any ideas, I am not planning on letting myself go. I just finished an 18 mile run. Well, I think that it was 18 miles anyway. Twice during my run I accidentally hit the emergency stop button on my treadmill which upset me because I did not know my exact mileage at the time. The second time I almost got propelled into my TV. Nothing like being thrown into a crime show. LOL

Not only do I want to start the process of letting go of my past instead of outrunning it, but I am also faced with something that I never thought would happen. I am not needed as much anymore. My kids are growing up. My oldest will be graduating from high school this year. If everything works out as she has planned, she will be leaving our house in 5 months. She will become an adult. Gulp. Yesterday my middle child drove a car for the first time. He got his temps this week. Last night my youngest child babysat so someone else could go out for New Year’s Eve. I don’t even need a babysitter anymore for my youngest child.

When this whole process started, I never pictured in my mind that someday my babies would grow up. Some days I wished for it after sleepless nights with a newborn, toddler temper tantrums, potty training, math homework, etc.. When did time change from wanting them to grow up to wanting time to stand still for a little longer? In five years, I will be done with this job. I’m doing the best that I can so I don’t look back with regret. Despite some relatively minor teenage issues in comparison, the burden of responsibility is starting to lift. I will finally have time for the first time in my life to do what I want to do.

It’s time to start letting go…